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Citation: Why is it so Important?: Home

The Bottom Line

The standards for academic writing and attribution are much higher at the college and university level than they are in high school.  Your professors expect you to learn how to cite sources correctly in a given format, and often, proper citation techniques are not taught in class.  Having the initiative to learn and check your work is essential.  Errors in paraphrasing and citations can give the impression that you are plagiarizing, even if that is not your intention.  

Why Should I Cite?

Your professors expect you to cite any sources that you use in your work.  Through your citations, you give credit to authors, you help readers determine which ideas are yours and which you've drawn from others' work, and you provide a roadmap for readers to follow if they want to learn more about your topic.  Scholarship is a conversation, and while you are expected to contribute your own thoughts and ideas, you are also expected to acknowledge the work of others in your field.  Citation helps you do that.

You are in college to expand your mind, become an independent thinker, and acquire the skills that you will need to be successful in your post-college life.  The number one skill you are here to acquire is the ability to think (Georgetown University Honor Council, 2014).  Professors provide opportunities for you to become a better independent thinker by engaging you in academic discourse, and assigning projects and papers that allow you contribute your ideas to the scholarly conversation.  Trying to pass off someone else's work as your own robs you of this experience.

I Don't Have Time to Do It Right!

Academic writing is no easy task, and it takes time to write a quality paper that has been properly cited.  Authors of scholarly articles know this - it takes years to write an article, have it edited, make corrections, and eventually have it published in a journal.  But, because scholarly journals only want to publish information that is of the highest quality, authors endure the long process and take the time to do things right.

If you choose to leave an insufficient amount of time to write and cite your paper, you should accept the possibility of a lower grade rather than risk an accusation of plagiarism.  Members of the Stonehill community adhere to the Academic Honor Code, and violating that code could result in temporary or permanent expulsion from the college.

What is a Paraphrase?

Paraphrasing is using your own words to express someone else's idea.  You don't change the meaning of the original statement, but you do use your own vocabulary and unique writing style.  If your version is too close to the original, that's plagiarism.

Proper paraphrasing requires a thorough understanding of the original text.  You can't put something into your own words if you don't understand what you've read.  And if you don't understand it, you shouldn't use it in your paper!

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Lindsay Boezi
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But They Said it Better! Shouldn't I Use Their Words?

Paraphrasing is preferable to quoting directly from a source.  Being able to paraphrase shows that you understand the information you've read, and that you can analyze it and add your own ideas.  It demonstrates your comprehension of the course content, and allows you to apply this newly-acquired knowledge to your own perspective.

Inserting a direct quote or two into your paper is fine, but it can become a problem if you use someone else's words all throughout your paper (Georgetown University Honor Council, 2014).  When your paper is a sea of quotation marks with only a few of your own sentences sprinkled in, you are showing that you did not do much thinking about your topic.  You haven't written a paper; rather, you have assembled a collection of thoughts from established scholars and presented them as your work.  Assembling a paper usually leads to poor writing, bad grades, or worse, an accusation of plagiarism.  Getting into the habit of using another person's vocabulary, sentence structure, and particular turns of phrase also stops you from developing your own voice as a writer.  

Writing and Citing Tips

1.  Always write your papers from scratch, starting with a blank screen.

2.  Cite at the time of writing to be sure that you are giving proper attribution to the original author(s).

3.  Don't cut and paste passages from sources - that's assembling, not writing.  

4.  When reading a potential source, jot down the main ideas that you want to use in your paper, but in your own words.  Make a note of where those ideas came from so that you can properly cite them.


Georgetown University Honor Council. (2014, May 27). What is plagiarism? Georgetown University.

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